Tyranny in democratic republics does not proceed in the same way, however. It ignores the body and goes straight for the soul. The master no longer says: You will think as I do or die. He says: You are free not to think as I do. You may keep your life, your property, and everything else. But from this day forth you shall be as a stranger among us. You will retain your civic privileges, but they will be of no use to you. For if you seek the votes of your fellow citizens, they will withhold them, and if you seek only their esteem, they will feign to refuse even that. You will remain among men, but you will forfeit your rights to humanity. When you approach your fellow creatures, they will shun you as one who is impure. And even those who believe in your innocence will abandon you, lest they, too, be shunned in turn. Go in peace, I will not take your life, but the life I leave you with is worse than death.
It’s not just about sex. It’s about egalitarianism itself, which, as Plato argued in The Republic, is inherently destructive of moral, legal, and rational standards, and has tyranny as its natural sequel. The egalitarian regime insists, notionally, on tolerating every opinion and way of life, and refuses either to judge any one of them as morally or rationally superior to any other, or to favor any of them in its laws. Yet no regime can tolerate what would subvert it. And the very idea that some views and ways of life are simply objectively superior, rationally and morally, to others, is subversive of egalitarianism. Hence egalitarian societies tend in practice to be intolerant of views which maintain that there are objective standards by which some views and ways of life might be judged better or worse. That is to say, an egalitarian regime inevitably tolerates only those views which are egalitarian. Which means, of course, that it tolerates only itself. ¶ Thus, in Plato’s own day, do we have the spectacle of Athens, which was democratic, pluralist, and egalitarian — and killed Socrates, because it suspected that he was none of the above. Thus do we have the French Revolution, which murdered thousands in the name of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Thus do we have Stalinist Russia and Maoist China, each of which slaughtered tens of millions in the name of equality. If egalitarians have, historically, been able to convince themselves of the justifiability of all that, then burning down a pizzeria is a cinch.
If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants. There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever-growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, “dizzy with success,” to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society — a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.